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Circumstantial Evidence Can Be Used to Prove a DUI

If you committed a crime, but no one saw it, did it really happen?

To be convicted of a crime, there must be evidence that you committed the crime. In the case of a DUI, such evidence would include results of the blood alcohol test and witnesses seeing you drive erratically.

However, the California Supreme Court recently ruled that circumstantial evidence can also be used to prove a DUI.

The Case

In the case of Coffey v. Shiomoto, Ashley Coffey sued the California Department of Motor Vehicles over the suspension of her driver's license after she pled guilty to a "wet and reckless" charge.

Coffey was arrested four years ago when a CHP officer saw her swerving her car on the Costa Mesa Freeway. The officer observed Coffey's red eyes and the strong odor of alcohol and concluded that Coffey was drunk. A breath test performed about an hour after the stop showed Coffey's blood alcohol level (BAC) to be 0.08 percent. A blood test done nearly half an hour later showed Coffey's blood alcohol level to be 0.095 percent.

In disputing her driver's license suspension, Coffey used the rising blood-alcohol defense. She argued that while she was driving, her blood alcohol level was below the legal limit and only rose above the legal limit after she was stopped. The DMV disregarded this evidence and relied instead on the officer's observations of Coffey's appearance, erratic driving, poor performance on field sobriety tests, the results of the BAC test, and the strong order of alcohol to conclude that Coffey drove with a BAC above the legal limit.

Circumstantial vs. Direct Evidence

In court, guilt may be proved two ways: With direct evidence and with circumstantial evidence.

Direct evidence "immediately establishes the factual matter to be proved by it without the need for inferences." Direct evidence of a DUI would be an officer seeing you swerve your car or your BAC test result showing your blood alcohol level to be above 0.08 percent.

Circumstantial evidence consists of facts that don't actually prove the crime, but can be used to infer that a crime happened. For example, to prove driving under the influence, the prosecution needs to show (among other things) that you actually drove the car while you were intoxicated. Usually, this is done with direct evidence, such as a witness seeing you drive. However, if no one witnessed you driving, an officer can conclude you drove if the hood of your car is hot, you're sitting in the driver's seat, no one else is in the car, and the car is on the side of a road. All these factors are circumstantial evidence that help a jury conclude the car couldn't have gotten to the side of the road unless you drove it there.

So, even if the prosecutor or DMV doesn't have any direct evidence against you, they can rely on circumstantial evidence to prove you drove while under the influence.

If you've been arrested for a DUI, an experienced DUI attorney will be able to help you consider all the evidence against you and formulate a defense strategy.

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